Lemonade from Lemons

Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
Trip End Dec 22, 2011

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Monday, October 3, 2011

Only a few years ago I was in Xela (pronounced Shay-lah) to sign up for a trek to Lago Atitlan.  Who can pass up three days of hiking through beautiful mountains to one of the most scenic lakes in Central America?   Unfortunately torrential rain washed out that journey and gave me a raincheck in the truest sense of the word.

My current road from San Cristobal to Xela was specifically taken to finally cash in that raincheck.   Quetzeltrekkers informed me that Lago Atitlan would now be a no go in the morning due to a lack of guides and another group signing up and leaving a day earlier.   I can't even describe the sense of frustration of having specifically come to this city just for this one trek.  Checking back in 3 or 4 days for the next one that might run was the only solution.   Like I am going to sit around an uninviting city for something that may or may not happen.

Not wanting to give up just yet, I walked around to several agencies with each offering a no rather than a trek...indeed, they each had 3-4 individual travelers looking to sign up but no commitments could be made until at least 6 or more came together.  Each said to just check back later and maybe the trek could happen.   With no desire to hurry up and wait on a moving target, I decided to just bag this one dream trip of mine and look for greener pastures elsewhere.

When Plan A doesn't work out, something better is usually lurking around the corner.   Uncovering that "something" just requires digging around and keeping an open mind.   My newly freed up calendar provides open options...should I just take the chicken bus to Panajanchel on the lake or head onwards to Nicaragua?   This is the benefit to an agenda without much of a plan.   We can just wander around looking for that next great place.  When it happens, it happens.

With 160,000 people living at an altitude of about 8,000 feet and higher, Xela is Guatemala's second largest city.   The official name of Quetzaltanango means "place of the Quetzal bird," but common practice uses Xela derived from Xe laju' noj or "under ten mountains."   These strange sounding names to our English speaking ears conjure up exotic images of far away places, but in reality, dirty run down Xela is full of graffiti, poverty, stray dog poop, and car exhaust.   Most foreigners are here to learn Spanish or partake in treks that evidently may or may not run as advertised. 

You know that cliched old phrase of making lemonade out of lemons?   Xela may have dealt me a raw, bitter lemon but a single afternoon turned this place into nice cup of lemonade so to speak.  Thank you Oliver, Yael, Shani, Hanna, and Gia for turning this place around.   Meeting wonderful people along the way has been the great upside of staying in hostels, and these five and I set out on a trek of our own.   Hanna wanted to show us a place that supposedly serves the best hot chocolate in town and off we went on foot with high hopes.

And sure enough as soon as we started the rain began, and we walked at least 25 minutes uphill in it.   Turns out we were a few streets well beyond where we needed to be and definitely out of the more "touristy" areas of the center.  The first tip off was locals looking at us like what the hell are these gringos doing in this neighborhood?   I can report that a great cup of hot chocolate and some fruit fondue were worth the wet clothes and getting just a little bit lost. This place makes everything from scratch using fresh cocao beans and I have never tasted chocolate products like it.

Xela is like that delicious cup of hot chocolate I enjoyed with my new friends.  What starts out as dark, unrefined, bitter beans needing a fair amount of work becomes that smooth liquid perfect on this cold, rainy evening.  

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